John O'Connor

John O’Connor is a reporter for StateImpact Florida, a project of WUSF, WLRN and NPR covering education. John writes for the StateImpact Florida blog and produces stories for air on Florida public radio stations.

John is a former political reporter for The (Columbia, S.C.) State and the Daily Record in Baltimore. He has a bachelor’s degree from Allegheny College and a master’s degree from the University of Maryland. He was chosen as the South Carolina Press Association 2009 Journalist of the Year.

Miami Herald reporter Michael Vasquez has spent a year digging into Florida's for-profit college industry for a series called Higher Ed Hustle.

About 300,000 Florida students attend for-profit colleges, which often specialize in training low-skill workers for a new career.

Three months ago, W. Kent Fuchs became president of the University of Florida, leaving New York’s Cornell University.

Fuchs says Florida universities are adding new faculty, but opposition to higher tuition means more pressure to find private donations.

The University of Florida is also expanding a new online program with a goal of eventually enrolling 24,000 students.

Fuchs sat down with WLRN’s StateImpact Florida reporter John O’Connor to talk about the issues in higher education.

Testing experts say so far Florida's problems with its new statewide exam, the Florida Standards Assessments, are likely not serious enough for the state to consider throwing out this year’s test scores.

This week, PBS is launching a new documentary series, "180 Days."

One of the films focuses on Hartsville, South Carolina, a rural and poor district which has managed to become one of the highest rated school districts, according to South Carolina's ranking.

At Miami's iPrep Academy, getting ready for the state's new standardized test includes rapping.

Two students are recording the daily announcements, telling classmates when and where they need to be starting today.

"Monday is ninth graders, with last name A to G," one student raps, in a rhyme that's no threat to Miami's Rick Ross.



"On Tuesday, it’s ninth graders with last name H through Z," his partner continues.

A proposal to limit students to 45 hours of testing a year is unlikely to reduce the amount of time spent on exams, according to a survey of Florida's largest school districts.

Districts say they don't currently track the time individual students spend on testing.

Education Commissioner Pam Stewart says students cannot skip state-required tests, and teachers and schools can be punished for refusing to administer required exams.

Stewart’s letter is a response to questions from senators as they prepare for the upcoming legislative session. Senators wanted to know if students could opt out of state-required exams and how doing so might affect their progress in school.

Lots of people think there’s too much testing going on in schools right now. It’s one of the most contentious issues in education.

Lawmakers want to scale back the amount of time Florida students spend taking tests.

But at the same time, Florida is rolling out a new test tied to new math and language arts standards -- known as Common Core.

NPR education reporter Anya Kamenetz researched the history and use of standardized exams for her book, “The Test.”

Read an edited version of our interview with Kamenetz below.

When lawmakers return to Tallahassee in March for the annual legislative session, they have a lot of questions they need to answer about public school testing.

Senators laid out their concerns about the state testing system last week at a series of meetings.

They don’t know how many tests the state requires or how long it takes to complete those exams.

They don’t know how much the state and school districts spend on testing.

And they’re not convinced they can depend on all the results of those exams.

John O'Connor / StateImpact Florida

  Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush took a first step toward becoming a 2016 presidential candidate Tuesday.

And that has many asking how his position on education issues would affect both a Republican primary candidacy and, if Bush survives, a general election candidacy.

Students who are the first in their family to attend college often have a more difficult time finishing their degree.

Research shows those students know less about how to get into and pay for college. They're also less likely to take tough high school courses needed to prepare for college.

This spring, Florida students will take a brand new test tied to the state’s new math, reading and writing standards.

This is the test that replaces the FCAT. It's known as the Florida Standards Assessment, and it’ll be online.

What’s on the test won’t be the only thing different about the exam. Students will also find new types of questions.

Polls show Governor Rick Scott and former Governor Charlie Crist are polarizing. Voters are as likely to dislike the candidates as they are to approve of them.

So both candidates are talking about schools, colleges and scholarships -- to motivate their supporters.

“Education is an issue that is helping to appeal to the base," says Sean Foreman, a Barry University political science professor and chairman of the education committee for the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce.

State university leaders want to add $45 million in needs-based financial aid to help make up for changes to the Bright Futures scholarship program. Those new, higher qualifications will eliminate more than $250 million a year in college aid by 2018.

Set a goal. Work hard. Then, take a short break to recharge.

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